Update (May 16, 9:20 p.m.): After the NBA draft lottery Tuesday night, the Knicks are now slated to pick eighth; they would have gotten the seventh pick if draft order were decided by record alone.
When the NBA holds its annual draft lottery tonight, the New York Knicks will have a 5.3 percent chance of winning the top pick in next month’s draft and an 18.3 percent chance of landing in the top three. Their fans will be keeping their fingers crossed for a little good news — for once.
Since trading franchise icon Patrick Ewing before the 2000-01 season, the Knicks have won one playoff series and amassed the league’s third-worst regular-season record.1 Fans of dreadful teams can usually cling to the likelihood of high draft picks and the hope for the future they bring. But the Knicks have managed to bungle that too.
I compared teams’ regular-season performance2 to their average position in the drafts following each of the 16 seasons from 2000-01 through 2015-16.3 In general, good teams should have bad picks and bad teams should have good picks. That’s how the system’s designed, after all. If your team stinks, at least you have a shot at the best players in the draft.
As one of the worst teams in the NBA since 2000-01,4 the Knicks should have had one of the best average draft positions. Instead, New York’s front office fumbled its way to the 6th-worst average in the league, combining on-court ineptitude with draft-night hopelessness.
Let that sink in for a moment. Over the past 16 years, the only teams with worse average draft position than the Knicks were the Spurs, Mavericks, Heat, Lakers and Pacers. These are all successful teams that generally picked late because they were good at basketball. Not surprisingly, the Knicks own the largest average discrepancy between where they should have picked in the draft and where they actually picked.
Bad lottery luck has played a part. Since winning the Ewing sweepstakes in 1985, the Knicks haven’t moved up a single draft spot via the lottery — that is, when they’ve been one of the teams in the lottery, the drawing hasn’t led to them picking any earlier than they would have if draft order were determined by record alone. They fell four spots in 1986, three in 1987,5 one in 2008 and two in 2015. The only other time a pick that would have belonged to the Knicks landed among the top three in the lottery, New York had given Chicago the rights to that spot under the terms of the Eddy Curry trade. (The Bulls selected LaMarcus Aldridge second overall in 2006.)
And that’s really the bigger problem. Most of the damage the Knicks have suffered was self-inflicted. In the 16 drafts since the infamous Ewing-to-Seattle deal in 2000, the team has worsened its own position eight times by either trading away the rights to its top pick or allowing another team to swap first-round spots.6 In five cases, the pick New York gave up became a lottery spot, including the pick the Bulls used to draft Aldridge in 2006. And even when the Knicks hang onto their first-round pick until draft night, they can still manage to lose it: In 2002, they drafted Nenê with a lottery pick, then traded him away that same night for Antonio McDyess, who delivered the Knicks 0.6 win shares over 18 games before being packaged for Stephon Marbury.7
The Nenê trade isn’t the exception, either. For the most part, all this wheeling and dealing has left New York no better off than they were when they started.
|PICK TRADED FOR …|
|YEAR||ORIGINAL PICK||KEY PLAYER*||PLAYER WIN SHARES WITH KNICKS||PLAYER STILL WITH KNICKS?|
When the Knicks actually make picks, they tend to draft pretty well. They’ve made 12 first-round selections since 2001, and many of them, including Nenê and Kristaps Porzingis, have turned out to be pretty good or even great picks. But the Knicks traded a lot of those guys away and got relatively little in return.
Holding onto picks before the draft is one step out of this downward spiral for the Knicks. Holding onto them after will be another. In the meantime, a little bit of luck with the pingpong balls at tonight’s lottery won’t hurt.
Check out our latest NBA predictions.